Wednesday, July 13, 2011

American ignorance?

You've probably seen all those studies that claim how ignorant Americans are - sometimes it's a study about the population in general; sometimes it's about students. The survey shows that an alarmingly high percentage of respondents were totally ignorant about basic facts of our country's history or the basic functions of government.

I always wonder who those people were. But yesterday I was talking to someone I've known for at least a year, and she surprised me.

We were catching up after a month of being out of touch. I explained that I'd been traveling, and that we went to London, England. My friend had been at a family gathering in Lake Tahoe. We both told little stories about our stay.

I told about the weather. During our London stay, the weather had been very unusual - lots of rain, one really hot day, some surprisingly cold days, and one day of really fierce thunderstorms. After a bit of back and forth, my friend asked, "So, in London, it's their winter now, right?"

My friend wasn't sure which hemisphere Britain was in.

My friend is in her mid thirties; she's smart, talented and has a good job. She hasn't been to college, but she certainly graduated from high school without trouble. Yet her grasp on basic geography - where is Britain located? - came as a shock to me.

What do you think? Is this common? Have you encountered similar examples of ignorance? And - playing the devil's advocate for a moment - does it really matter, if she has a good life in society?

*Update - misspelling fixed. Thanks Gary!


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

At least she didn't call them a bunch of commies (did she?).

Here's something worse.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I have an old friend (guy I went to high school with) who is best described as a perma-n00b. A group of us went to Coney Island to see a Mets farm team play baseball, and we stopped at Nathan's. I purchased two orders of frogs' legs, and told everybody to dig in. This guy bit into the frog's leg, got a consternated look on his face, and said, "This has got a bone in it!"

I asked him what he was expecting, and he replied, "Chicken fingers got no bones."

He wasn't joking.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

You just keep yur goobermint hands off my Medicare, BBBB!


Some people simply don't have a curiosity even for the most basic of topics. They are content in their own little world. Sometimes it's very peaceful that way.

Gary's third pottery blog said...

But then again, a seemingly smart gal such as yerself butchered the spelling of Britain up there ;)

Aunt Snow said...

Aww, Gary!!!

Gilly said...

Well, your description of our London weather could have confused her - it just sounded like winter!!

I don't know that all that many of my countrymen could tell you where the various states are in the US After all, you are a continent - as big as Europe (well you share with Canada, but then I'm not sure some Britons actually know that Canada and the US are two different countries!). And Europe is filled with lots of countries, some of which are smaller than some US States!

All very confusing to some. Though those of us who did Geography, and those of us who have blog friends in the US have probably a fairly good knowledge of the States, in a general way! :)

But we do pack an awful lot of history into our countries.

And the roads are smaller.

NE/ME said...

I moved to Nebraska a few years ago. When I told a young person here that I am from Maine, she said is that a state or a city? I don't know what she would have thought if I had told her I was from Poland, Maine??

Another Kiwi said...

A few years ago now, a guy on a political forum I used to hang around on, wrote that he and some friends had been driving into university together and got to talking about Islam. One said that he couldn't be in a religion that had so many restrictions. One of the others then said "But it's not like anyone makes them live there, is it?" He thought Islam was a country.
A person who I worked with had spent 20 years working in America and had a daughter in her last year in Secondary school and reckoned that the lack of general knowledge is due to concentration that the kids have on passing whatever test they have that week. They are geared for short term memory work on the range of subjects they are taking.

Gary's third pottery blog said...

In sum: I think American schools are BAD and the kids are NOT working very hard.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

And Europe is filled with lots of countries, some of which are smaller than some US States!

We had a French guy staying with us for a few weeks (my brother, while traveling, told people to call our house if they ever came to New York), and he planned a trip to Boulder, Colorado. Poor guy thought he'd be able to take day trips to places like the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. It took us a while to make the sheer magniture of the country sink into his consciousness.

SUEB0B said...

One time, at work as a cashier, I decided to have fun with my boss. "John," I said, "Do we accept Hawaiian money?" "NO" he thundered. "Why would we?"